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Freedom from Torture writes to Home Secretary as it begins legal challenge against Government policy to relocate asylum seekers to Rwanda


NGO argues policy is irrational, breaches European Convention on Human Rights and Refugee Convention

Date of Publication:
25 May 2022

Freedom from Torture writes to Home Secretary as it begins legal challenge against Government policy to relocate asylum seekers to Rwanda

25 May 2022

Leigh Day solicitors yesterday published an update on Freedom from Torture's legal challenge against the lawfulness of the Government's new policy to relocate asylum seekers to Rwanda.

Rwanda flagA letter was sent to the Home Secretary this week.

Freedom from Torture argues that the policy is irrational rather than evidence-based, breaches the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), and fails to comply with the Refugee Convention.

Leigh Day solicitor Carolin Ott said: "Freedom from Torture is extremely concerned about the legality of the Government's push to rapidly remove individuals to Rwanda. Our client considers that the Home Secretary's conclusion that Rwanda is generally a safe third country is irrational on the evidence available, and perhaps most concerningly, appears to have been reached on the basis of apparent pre-determination or bias. Our client further considers the policy constitutes a breach of the Home Secretary's duty not to induce breaches of human rights by her agents and is unlawful because it is contrary to the Refugee Convention."

Freedom from Torture points to the Home Secretary's April 14th speech (see here) which was made before the Home Office published documents on Rwanda in May determining it to be a safe country of removal.

"Despite publicly committing to relocating asylum seekers to Rwanda, it appears however that the Home Secretary did not reach her determination that Rwanda was a 'safe third country' until May. There is therefore a real possibility that the Home Secretary had predetermined or was biased in her assessment of the evidence about Rwanda and in assessing it as a 'safe third country'," Leigh Day explained.

Freedom from Torture is also particularly concerned that the policy will breach Article 3 of the ECHR, especially when the Home Office assesses vulnerability as it decides who is suitable for transfer to Rwanda, and in the needs of asylum seekers once in Rwanda.

Home Secretary Priti Patel and the Rwandan Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation Vincent Biruta last week wrote an opinion piece for the Daily Telegraph defending the policy (you can read it here on the Home Office media blog).

The opinion states: "Everyone included in the scheme will be safe and secure in a host country that is widely recognised for how it has welcomed and integrated migrants. Rwanda's history gives its people a profound connection to those seeking safety and opportunity in a new land. This has shaped the country's approach to migration and asylum. Rwanda has a strong, proud record of providing safety to those fleeing danger."

In the opinion piece, the Home Secretary accuses those opposing the policy as acting as "cheerleaders for the evil people smugglers".

Patel and Biruta also noted that the Danish government has recently confirmed that it also speaking to the Rwandan government about the transfer of asylum seekers.

Paul O'Connor of the Public and Commercial Services Union (which is also brining legal action against the policy) told the Christian Science Monitor: "What they're doing is unprecedented in so-called Western democracies … This is being driven entirely by racism. It's not a rational response to asylum and immigration policy."

As has been widely reported recently by news media, Israel had a similar policy from 2014 to 2018 to send asylum seekers to Rwanda and Uganda. Thousands were sent, but only a small handful remained in Rwanda.

Hareetz reported in 2018: "The UNHCR office in Kigali knows about only nine them. All the rest have left; most have been smuggled into Uganda. Six of those who remain in Rwanda agreed to share their stories with Haaretz. … All six live a meager existence in Kigali, struggling to survive. Some have lost all hope. The luckier ones have a roof over their heads and money for food. Others depend on the generosity and kindness of friends and local people and the limited help from the UN.

"The authorities in Rwanda do not recognize their right to be there and refuse to grant them residency permits. Lacking official documents, they have frequently been arrested and jailed. They are not fluent in the local language, the culture is foreign to them and finding work is nearly impossible. Though they arrived in Rwanda at different times, they all tell a similar story that raises concern for the fate of those who will be deported from Israel in the near future. All the people interviewed regret their decision to leave for Rwanda and urge the asylum seekers in Israel not to follow their example."

One man from South Sudan told Hareetz: "I am telling you that there is no work here, no help. We are suffering. How can you bring people here? We have no food, we have no home. If people come, they will suffer like I am. It is better to stay [in Israel] in prison than to come here."

Israel's +972 Magazine also reported similar here in 2018.